The 902 Foul Bay Road townhouse proposal has locals raging. We looked at all sides of the story.
A townhouse proposal in Fairfield Gonzales is pitting neighbour against neighbour, with lessons for the future of Victoria’s housing market
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A townhouse proposal in Fairfield Gonzales is pitting neighbour against neighbour, with lessons for the future of Victoria’s housing market
A townhouse proposal in Fairfield Gonzales is pitting neighbour against neighbour, with lessons for the future of Victoria’s housing market
The 100-year-old heritage estate that once stood on the grounds of 902 Foul Bay burned to the ground in 2016, leaving behind a rock wall, more than two dozen trees, and a vacant lot. The midnight blaze, which took 26 firefighters to bring down, gutted the house.
It was demolished shortly after, leaving behind a void that quickly filled with the hopes and fears of an entire neighbourhood.
The $2.5-million half-acre property now stands as the lone undeveloped plot in a sea of million-dollar homes on the border of one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Victoria. It also lies at the heart of a citywide battle that has been raging for years, one with consequences for every street in the city.
Aryze Developments has put forth a proposal to develop the site, seeking to open up the neighbourhood to first-time homeowners through the BC Housing Affordable Home Ownership Program. Through that project, 18 units would be sold for $700,000, at a $200,000 discount to the market price that includes the down payment, according to Luke Mari, Aryze’s Development Lead. All told, the property would include two three-storey buildings, a parking lot, a playground, and bicycle parking.
The project is just one of dozens of developments across Victoria that would increase density on tree-lined streets that have become unaffordable to the point of exclusion of all but the most affluent—or existing homeowners. Those homeowners reliably mount fierce opposition campaigns against new developments, with concerns ranging from the height of the buildings, to the density, to the neighbourhood’s character being compromised.
Opposition to the project has levelled heavy claims against the integrity and community impact of the proposed project and has attracted a coalition of neighbours with a variety of backgrounds and concerns.
“The developer has been so bullish and so Machiavellian in their approach… we're scared that we're not getting that consultation and that reasonable approach that we would like,” said Aaron Hill, who runs an environmental non-profit group and has joined forces with the opposition’s organizer, non-practicing lawyer Peter Nadler, against the development.
Aryze denies the allegations around their methods, saying their intentions behind this project are in the best interests of the community.
“Essentially, every single neighbourhood in Victoria is losing families and children [except] downtown, Harris Green, and Vic West,” Mari said. “There's a correlation between affordability and family migration.”
Hear Emily Fagan's behind-the-scenes account of reporting this story on the Capital Daily Podcast.
The Saanich Peninsula is hemmed in on three sides by ocean; there’s not much area left to spread into, and prices even in the suburbs have reached a boiling point. That migration has its own consequences for the environment, with sprawl accounting for increased pollution, higher energy usage, and the loss of farmland and wildlife.
In the year and a half since it was first announced to the community, the subject of what to do in this quiet corner of the city has turned neighbours against neighbours, garnered allegations of harassment and misinformation from both sides of the dispute, and sparked theories of a mass conspiracy.
In the overheated housing markets that have come to define Canadian cities over the past decade, 902 Foul Bay Road is a test case for what neighbours are being asked to sacrifice in the name of density—and the lengths they’re willing to go to fight for their little piece of Eden.
When neighbours talk about the property, they focus on the beauty of the trees, two of which are over a century old. The property is full of history—even the rock wall has heritage distinction. None have publicly discussed the deeper history of the land; how homes in Victoria were built on the Songhees Nation‘s sacred burial grounds.
The house that stood at 902 Foul Bay Road between the years of 1911 and 2016 was a two-storey, Tudor-style estate wrapped on three sides by a verandah. Over the years, it was home to two lawyers—including Victor DiCastri, one of the most prominent property law scholars in the province in the 1970s—as well as an accountant, and their families.
More recently, before it was reduced to a burned-out husk in January 2016, the building played host to squatters and more than 100 cats.
The fire prompted an investigation by the local police department—which officials said is often the case when the source of the fire isn’t evident. Victoria police arrested Earl Large, the 80-year-old owner of the property, on charges of arson and fraud over $5,000.
Large’s development company had purchased the property in 2014 with the intention of building townhouses, and requested that city council remove the heritage distinction at that time so the building could be demolished due to the level of mould, urine, and feces found on the property. The heritage panel recommended the city council reject the request, but the building went down in flames before city council could make the final call.
After an overnight stay in police custody, Large was released. According to Victoria police, the Crown did not bring charges against Large.
Despite the fire, two documents still govern what can be destroyed and built on the land: the heritage designation and the restrictive covenant shared with more than 100 other houses in the neighbourhood.
In a November 2020 meeting, the Heritage Advisory Panel voted in favour of recommending that city council revise the heritage designation bylaw for 902 Foul Bay, with the exception of the stone wall. The heritage alteration application is scheduled to be reviewed by the city starting in late April. At that time, the city will also consider a rezoning application for the property, also filed by Aryze.
Prior to this stage of the application process for rezoning, Aryze completed two Community Land Use Committee (CALUC) meetings, in November 2019 and December 2020. In the most recent meeting, out of an estimated 57 community members in attendance, 24 spoke: 16 in opposition to the project, seven in support, and one undeclared.
According to Bill Eisenhauer, head of engagement for the City of Victoria, the second CALUC meeting was triggered by changes Aryze made to their proposal that impacted the building’s height and setbacks.
Aryze is currently petitioning the BC Supreme Court to remove the restrictive covenant written into the deed for 902 Foul Bay and many neighbouring properties in 1924.
“No building is to be erected upon any lot other than a private dwelling house with suitable outbuildings; and no dwelling house to be erected upon any lot adjoining or fronting on Foul Bay Road shall cost less in erection thereof than Four Thousand Dollars ($4,000.00) and on other lots not less than Two thousand dollars ($2,000.00),” the covenant reads.
Mari called the covenant a “vestige of old privilege”—he feels the building cost and private dwelling mandates are classist. Although he claims the language of the covenant is vague enough that it doesn’t have to be removed for Aryze to build their proposed project, (the multiple units, he argues, could still be considered “private dwelling houses” and it certainly would cost more than $4,000) the company regularly petitions to remove land covenants that they feel “don't speak to modern challenges.”
Mari compared the covenant to old covenants that restricted land ownership and use based on race, which have been since deemed unenforceable. Nadler objects to this comparison, feeling it is used to paint Aryze’s opposition as racist.
As part of its petition to remove the covenant, Aryze served physical notices and a personalized letter to the immediate neighbours of 902 Foul Bay Road. The company received permission from the court to notify the other homeowners impacted by this covenant through newspaper ads instead of going to them directly. For those that were notified in person, Aryze also sent one of their staff to accompany the person serving the notice letter to houses in the neighbourhood to answer any questions people may have.
“We added a personalized touch just to let people know that we don't want people thinking they're getting sued; that's not what this is,” Mari said. “It's a notification that we're discharging a covenant.”
If that had been the intention, it backfired. Nadler said the language of the letter, combined with the presence of an Aryze employee at their doorstep, left a number of the recipients feeling like the developers were pressuring them not to voice opposition.
“The people who got that letter, a big chunk of them were intimidated—which is exactly what the intent of that letter was—and they basically ran for cover,” Nadler said.
Nadler himself has come out against many aspects of that particular development, including the removal of trees and potential for increased traffic, but says people in the neighbourhood aren’t against development. He says he and his supporters, however, felt they had “no choice” but to support their neighbours who are fighting to defend the covenant.
Nadler started a GoFundMe on behalf of Alan Loomer, one of the individuals served by Aryze, and at time of writing has raised more than $17,500 for litigation fees to oppose Aryze.
The letter from Mari that residents received claims that if strict interpretation of the covenant was upheld, 30% of those under the covenant would be in violation due to subdividing or building secondary suites on their properties. The letter also tells residents they are not being sued and the removal of the covenant will not affect them.
The part of the letter that has most residents concerned, however, comes at the end. In response to the question of what residents can do to oppose the covenant discharge, the letter notes they can obtain the services of a lawyer—but that they should do so with caution.
“While not ideal, we should note that if property owners decide to pursue legal action to oppose this discharge, and we are successful in the removal through the courts, we will be seeking legal compensation from those opposing property owners due to the added costs of additional court processes,” the letter reads.
Nadler said he and his group believe this sentence was intended as a threat.
“That letter basically was a complex, very carefully crafted piece of deceit,” he said. “Basically, intent to intimidate had the opposite effect. [Several neighbours] retained a lawyer, and they're fighting.”
According to Mari, it was not Aryze’s intention to intimidate anyone through the letter but rather to make them aware of the situation.
There is a precedent for the developer to recoup its legal costs. When the city council approved Aryze’s application to rezone a Fairfield property to build the Rhodo townhouses, a neighbour sued the City of Victoria to overturn the decision, naming Aryze in the lawsuit. The BC Supreme Court sided with the city, and the neighbours who brought the case forward were ordered to pay Aryze’s legal fees—ultimately about $5,000 of the $30,000 the company had spent on the case (Mari said they didn’t want to charge the full fee).
Unopposed, Mari estimates getting rid of the covenant at 902 Foul Bay Road would cost Aryze two weeks and $5,000. Opposed, he says they could spend tens of thousands of dollars litigating the case. If they won, the court could order the opposition to pay their legal fees.
This, he said, is why they added a line discouraging legal opposition—not to intimidate, but to save both sides the high expense of a legal case like this.
In opposing Aryze, the neighbours can argue to the BC Supreme Court that they have the legal benefit of the covenant and the capacity to enforce it, according to Douglas Harris, a property law professor at the University of British Columbia.
Harris agrees with Mari, though, that the origins of the covenant appear to be based in discrimination.
“At the time, it served as an exclusionary mechanism,” he said.
“This may have been a way of keeping that neighbourhood white even without saying so by putting a $4,000 cost on the building material so a substantial house had to be built—and so that only people with means could buy that lot.”
But now, $4,000 for building materials no longer acts as a cost deterrent. The sole barrier that remains, Harris says, is the stipulation for a single-family dwelling, which he feels remains exclusionary to many unable to afford such a home.
Looking at the dispute that has arisen over the property at 902 Foul Bay, Harris finds it ironic that DiCastri, a property law scholar and former Registrar of Titles of the Victoria Land Registration District, once called this place home.
“The fact that restrictive covenants on the property that he owned is the subject of litigation—I don't know whether he would turn over in his grave or whether it would tickle his funny bone,” Harris said.
When clashes over the fate of 902 Foul Bay emerged in the neighbourhood, they took place largely not on the shady, well-kept streets of Fairfield Gonzales, but online. A torrent of heated messages in local Facebook groups and Nextdoor (a neighbourhood-oriented online forum) solicited allegations from both sides: of doxxing, disinformation, harassment, and defamation.
It didn’t stop there.
On March 8, Katherine Davies, vice-president of operations at Aryze, was about to leave her house to pick up her two children when she spotted someone at her door.
It was a woman—from a quick look, Davies observed her to be in her 60s—tucking an envelope into Davies’ mailbox. The woman then walked back towards the street, joining up with a man who had been waiting from a distance, before continuing down the road. Neither of the two lived on Davies’ street; as head of the block watch, she says she would have recognized her neighbours.
“They didn't look dangerous,” Davies said. “They looked like they could have been my parents.”
Inside the envelope was a newspaper clipping from a month-old article about neighbours opposing the development, with a note scrawled across the top in red ink.
“Aryze is getting too greedy, with a fast growing bad rep,” it read. “This project is dumb + will not happen! Similarly Normandy Rd.”
For Davies and her husband, their first reaction was alarm and confusion at how their personal address was obtained by the letter’s author. She scoured her social media and online presence, which she says is fairly private, for any information that could have tipped them off to her address.
“[Reading it] makes me feel sad for them,” she said. “I'm happy to receive someone and have a conversation at any point, and we have in the past and and continue to this day, but to take it to this level… it doesn't seem appropriate.”
Upon hearing what had happened, Mari expressed his frustration with what his coworker was going through.
“This is total BS on any day but on International Women’s Day it’s a new level of crap,” he said. “Katherine is one of the only women executives in the alpha male dominated development industry and this is such a shameful thing to do.”
Nadler said his group of neighbours in opposition to the development was not aware of anyone who might have authored the letter.
“We are obviously not in a position to know and therefore to comment on whether Aryze is experiencing a backlash, nor, if there is a backlash, whether this letter would represent an escalation,” he wrote. “Discourse about a development project should be about the merits of the project, rather than directed at the developer or members of the public who provide their views.
“Personal, aggressive or intimidating communication is not appropriate, whether it comes from the public or from a developer.”
Nadler himself has been accused by members of the community of harassing developers and supporters of the project online, and of accusing them of defamation. Nadler has accused those in support of the project of being Aryze staff members, or of having affiliations with Aryze.
Online, the accusations flew.
“The frustrating thing about the thread was that any time anyone seemed to say anything that contradicted Peter Nadler, their thread would get removed and then he would just attack them. If they defended themselves, that would get removed,” said Cleo, a neighbour who has been active on Nextdoor and requested her last name be withheld out of fear of online harassment. For her comments arguing against doxxing supporters of the project, she was temporarily banned from Nextdoor—a ban she successfully appealed.
She supports the project, which she feels may be a rare opportunity for homeownership, and was surprised to see so much backlash against it online. In her time on Nextdoor, she says she has experienced personal attacks against herself and witnessed attacks on others who comment in support of the development, including one instance where she alleges Nadler had posted the full contents of another commenter’s LinkedIn page to accuse them of bias.
The commenter, Robert Berry, is an accountant for QuadReal Property Group, a real estate investment group.
Cleo says that after she responded to this post, saying she felt it was inappropriate, she was blocked from Nextdoor and the post was edited to reflect only the individual’s position and company name. Berry says his comments defending his stance in favour of the development were also deleted.
Nadler denies this allegation and asserts that he only posted the individual’s company name and position to back up his accusation of pro-developer bias. In a screenshot provided to Capital Daily, the comment reflects the contents detailed by Nadler, but shows that it has been edited. Capital Daily spoke to multiple individuals who verified Cleo’s account.
Berry said that this did not have an impact on him professionally, but that it might have if he worked at a smaller company.
Including Cleo and Berry, four neighbours separately reached out to Capital Daily to share allegations of online harassment on Facebook and Nextdoor that they experienced as a result of sharing their feelings in favour of the development.
“Apparently Fairfield Gonzales isn't just unwelcome to people that can't afford a million dollar house, but it's unwelcome to anybody that says they should be able to live in the neighborhood—like you can't even advocate for it,” Berry said.
Members of Nadler’s group also allege that they faced personal attacks, such as accusations of racism, while commenting online about the development.
“On social media, certain members of Aryze are out there name calling, attacking, [and] accusing,” said Lynn Phillips, a community member in Nadler’s group.
Screenshots provided to Capital Daily show that Mari and Aryze were active in commenting on social media threads where the proposed development was discussed, largely in response to claims made by Nadler and other individuals opposed to the project.
In a neighbourhood Facebook group, Nadler posted a link to his GoFundMe for the legal defence against Aryze along with several claims that the development would create what he calls “unsafe” traffic flow, remove most of the protected trees, and do nothing to adequately address the affordable-housing crisis.
Mari commented on that post, “Most people use GoFundMe for like...child hunger and cancer treatments, no no, blocking affordable townhouses is a far more noble pursuit.”
Nadler believes this comment, and others from Mari and those in support of the project, constitutes defamation, and says he has been collecting screenshots of messages for potential future litigation.
“If Mr. Nadler felt that it was harassment, I extend an apology, as that was not the intention,” Mari said in response to the allegation. “Beyond that, I stand by the philosophical intent of the statement that, when viewed among the larger societal challenges facing us, starting a GoFundMe to block housing like this is a poor use of time and financial resources.”
Mari was blocked from Nextdoor, after he said he responded to a neighbour who had written that only homeowners should have a say in neighbourhood developments and called the statement exclusionary, since 62% of Victorians are renters. He was also banned from the Fairfield Gonzales Facebook group after site administrators passed a rule to ban developers.
In a Zoom interview with multiple members of Nadler’s group, the mere mention of other harassment allegations made by Aryze staff members had an immediate, resounding effect.
“That’s a lie!” several members shouted in unison, through the screen. “Lies!”
Amid all the virtual shouting and recriminations, there are a few prominent issues around this project that its opponents have focused on: traffic safety, the proposed removal of trees, and affordability.
Victoria regularly ranks among the most expensive Canadian cities to live in, with no signs of stopping even during the pandemic. Rental market prices increased 3.3% from 2019 to 2020, and vacancy rates remain among the lowest in the country, at 2.2%.
Within the last year, single-family home prices increased 9%. A single-family home in the core region of Victoria cost $948,200 in 2021, according to the Home Price Index benchmark value.
Supply, experts say, is at a historic low when compared to the population.
“It kind of feels like you're either late to the party, and you're never gonna [afford] anywhere, or you've got to win the lottery,” Cleo—a renter—said of homeownership in Victoria.
Aryze says it intends to fill this need and make homeownership more achievable in one of Victoria’s most affluent neighbourhoods. The company is also currently working on creating a tiny home village out of storage containers that will serve as temporary housing for the unsheltered.
But those emergency tiny homes are a far cry from the townhouses the company is currently proposing, and critics of the 902 Foul Bay project have scrutinized the affordability of the homes Aryze intends to sell.
“There's nothing affordable about this project,” said Phillips, a financial planner who is involved with Nadler’s group.
A proposal for below-market-rate affordable housing, put forth by the United Church on its own property about two blocks away from 902 Foul Bay Road, was killed last year after nearby homeowners complained.
Patrick Condon, an urban designer and professor at the University of British Columbia, said this project would likely be affordable—to the top 20-25% of households in Victoria.
Victoria’s median annual household income is about $70,000, of which Condon said 30% should be allocated for housing—so for that median household, about $1,700 a month in mortgage or rent. For an $800,000 home with a 3% mortgage, he expected the monthly payments would be more than double that amount. That’s also assuming that mortgage prices don’t increase from their current rock-bottom rates in the coming years, which is the only possible direction they could go.
“Clearly, it's not affordable to the average household,” he said.
Mari admits that this is not an affordable housing project but says Aryze is aiming to break down some of the affordability barriers to first time homeownership in the neighbourhood’s million-dollar housing market.
“If you want to live in this neighbourhood, you have to have $1.7 million as of today to get a three-bedroom home,” he said. “So, selling a townhouse of equal square footage that's brand new construction with a home warranty for $700,000—how is that not more affordable?”
Critics point out Mari’s estimate is steeper than the average value of neighbouring properties. According to Focus Magazine, three of the nine neighbouring properties are three-bedroom houses, while one is a two-bedroom. The average value of these properties is assessed at $971,624.
Casey, a renter living on Redfern Street who requested anonymity out of concern she could be disqualified for future opportunities to own an affordable home, dreams of buying in her community.
This project, Casey said, doesn’t come close to helping her—or the average worker in Victoria—achieve that
If the project at 902 Foul Bay was affordable for those making around the median income for Canadians (just over $61,000, which would translate to a purchase price well under half a million dollars), she could see herself supporting the project and applying to purchase one of the units in spite of her own appreciation for the current wildlife on the property.
“If the proposal does go ahead, I would feel quite sad for my own reasons of appreciating those trees, but I also understand that building more dense housing will actually in the long run save more trees,” Casey said.
There are neighbours of the property who say their dreams of owning a home may indeed come true through this project, however.
Daniel Opdendries and his family of four currently rent a one bedroom apartment a few blocks from the proposed development site. While his family loves their street, the risk and lack of stability as renters is something they’ve been growing more concerned about in recent years.
“The affordability question is an interesting one because we're like, ‘Can we afford a $700,000-minus-down-payment mortgage?’” he said. “In a 30-year mortgage, that is going to be cheaper than us renting a three bedroom place in this neighbourhood. If we don't buy this place, then we're [probably] buying in Royal Bay or Sooke.”
Buying a house in their community would allow his first-grader to continue at his current school and allow the family to keep their environmental impact low by owning only one car.
For his family, Opdendries says this development would be an accessible, but not necessarily affordable, way to break into the housing market.
A homeowner for 20 years in Victoria, Doug Schiedel was happy to see this housing effort proposed for his neighbourhood.
“We're lucky enough to have bought here earlier when we could afford to; there's no way we could afford it now,” he said. “I think it behooves us to help support younger families that would like to [live here].”
Those who are part of Nadler’s team feel that Aryze’s assertions about affordability are all an intentional ruse motivated by one thing: profit.
“It's a game [Mari] is playing,” Philips said. “The reason he's being so aggressive with this whole thing is because he's going to make a lot of money, lots of money. It’s nothing to do with providing affordable homeownership.”
Mari denies this allegation, as there are far more profitable ways Aryze could have pursued this project that would also have allowed them to avoid the years-long neighbourhood conflict. A bank would require Aryze to make the project two and a half times more profitable than current plans before it could ever even be considered for a loan, he said.
“When you factor in that it will take us four years to bring this project to market, that is an annualized return of 2.14%,” he wrote in an email.
“We could have made as much return by putting our money into a Bank of Canada government bond that has no risk, no opposition, no personal attacks, no letters showing up at our personal homes. The problem? It results in no housing for people who need it.”
More than 50 people have expressed interest in applying for housing in the proposed development, according to Mari. They include Cleo and Opdendries.
In spite of Nadler’s claims that those publicly in support of the project are affiliated with Aryze Developments, Schiedel, Opdendries, and Cleo all said they had no existing relationship with the company prior to taking part in public consultation or voicing their views about the project online.
Walking down Redfern Street, one key rallying point stands out as the centrepiece of the neighbours’ opposition to the plan.
Dozens of signs line the landscaped lawns of the neighbours’ streets—a total of 68, according to Philips—with cartoons of animals and people holding hands with trees.
“Save the trees at 902 Foul Bay,” one sign reads. “We are stronger when we stand together.”
Each sign advertises a link to the website run by Nadler, 902foulbay.ca, which emphasizes “big trees, safe streets, [and] community” as key reasons to “keep Redfern green.”
In the years since the house burned down in 2016, many neighbours say they’ve grown fond of the forested patch of property.
“I walked by there every day, and so do many people. The 900 block of Redfern has a beautiful tree canopy; it's an essential part of the characteristics of our neighbourhood,” said Monique Genton, a member of Nadler’s group who is part of the local native plant study group.
According to Aryze, they plan to remove 18 bylaw-protected trees, retain 12 bylaw-protected trees, and plant 34 trees. Although many of the trees are on the perimeter of the property, several have root systems that expand into the proposed construction zone, which is why they have been selected for removal.
The project plans say Aryze will also plant more than 100 native plants on the property and create several green roofs. The city is requiring the removal of five off-site trees in order to build a sidewalk.
Among the trees up for removal are two copper beech trees that are estimated to be more than 100 years old.
The removal of these two trees are a particular source of contention. Many cite the environmental benefits of mature trees in sequestering carbon, or the shelter they provide for the wild animals that currently call 902 Foul Bay home.
“Even though some of the trees aren't native, they're still big trees and being close to them lowers our stress hormones and lowers our blood pressure,” Hill said.
“It's a slippery slope once we start chopping them down, so that that's a concern to me and our quality of life here.”
Those in favour of the project also shared sentiment for the trees. In his early days in the neighbourhood, Opdendries enjoyed many walks past the tree-lined property while pushing his son’s stroller.
Mari says that Aryze developed their plans to preserve many of the existing trees, and have adapted elements based on the city’s feedback to preserve more trees. If they didn’t care about the trees, he said, the site came already zoned for developers to remove more trees and build a four-lot subdivision with million-dollar homes on the property.
In a 2019 meeting when the 902 Foul Bay Road project was first introduced to the public, Mari says he initially told the neighbours that only five to seven protected trees would be removed. When that number significantly increased—due to a new bylaw introduced around protected trees, Mari says—Nadler and his group were concerned and decided they should take action.
“So we started our campaign by way of lawn signs to raise awareness and to counter the disinformation coming from this developer,” Nadler said.
“It’s got nothing to do with trying to make it [affordable] or trying to make it fit or trying to retain trees—the more units you build, the more profit. That's just the bottom line.”
There are other elements Nadler sees as disinformation spread by Aryze, such as the level of traffic that will be created by this development, the origin of the plant species they intend to use, and the height of the building.
Nadler anticipates that each of the 18 units will draw families with at least one car, along with guests and household staff. With only 16 parking spots available in the on-site lot, he says, the street-parked cars and a higher level of traffic will alter the integrity of the currently quiet Redfern Street.
Aryze commissioned a transportation engineer to study the potential impact of this development and found that 4-10 cars will be added to the quiet Redfern Street's traffic per day. In total, the study estimated 26 car trips would be added per day to nearby streets during peak hours. They also plan to build a bike parking area for residents.
At the end of the day, there is a contingent of those in the neighbourhood who don’t think this dispute is about the trees or traffic.
“It's pretty clear that it's not really about the trees,” said Cleo, who still appreciates the trees in spite of supporting the development. “It feels a lot like ‘not in my backyard.’”
For affordable, newly built housing, developers have looked to the West Shore and Langford, where deforestation to make way for developments is common. Locals in the area are increasingly concerned about the destruction of natural habitats—some even hanging a cut-out of Dr. Seuss’s character the Lorax on land proposed for development.
Experts warn that this unrestricted urban sprawl carries significant environmental, health, and economic risks. In addition to pressing environmental concerns, sprawl contributes to increased traffic congestion, elevated rates of respiratory diseases, a higher cost of living, and greater income-based housing divides.
Experts note that those who get to define the character of a neighbourhood are often wealthier, white homeowners who have lived in communities for decades. In February, an affordable housing project in Ontario caught national attention when neighbours protested its construction on a parking lot, which one individual called “the heart of the community.”
Schiedel echoes these concerns, and hopes that the community will come together to prioritize their efforts to areas with greater need.
“We've got lawns that are littered with all these signs and I'm thinking, why are you going out spending money on these signs to stick on people's lawns when there's people going hungry and there's homeless [in the city],” he said. “It seems to me that priorities are all screwed up. To me, it’s maximum NIMBYism and I think we’ve got to get over that.”
Those opposed to the project reject the idea that ‘not in my backyard’ ideology, or “NIMBYism,” is the driving force behind their concerns.
“If there was a big townhouse development going in a block away from me on Oak Bay Avenue where it's already built up, I'd be totally fine with that,” Hill said. “It's not about keeping big developments out of our neighbourhood, it's about that particular spot being inappropriate and that development harming other values in the neighbourhood.”
What kind of development on 902 Foul Bay could have successfully gone through without causing widespread frustration in the neighbourhood?
To address the issue of traffic, more trees would be cut down to extend the parking lot. To reduce the number of trees cut down, the building would have to be taller, an issue with which neighbours have already expressed their discontent.
Some neighbours say 902 Foul Bay should be left alone by developers. But in a neighbourhood of million-dollar homes within a city facing a housing crisis, it’s unlikely this property would remain untouched for long. The city has not expressed interest in buying the property as a park.
Had Aryze chosen not to apply for rezoning and instead subdivided the property, Mari says this project would already be complete and three times more profitable.
“Most developers choose the path of least resistance, building out low-density single-family homes for the 2% of the population that can afford them,” he wrote in an email. “Had we gone under existing zoning and built four large, expensive homes, we would be done by now and would be sitting on three million dollars of profit with ZERO of the headaches.”
Some, such as Karen Ayers, say it was the changes to Aryze’s plan, and the way they went about it, that caused this community dispute.
“It's been quite negative and divisive,” she said. “On the other hand, it's brought together a group of people who live in the neighbourhood... I'm happy to have met many of the people that are in this group, because I didn't know them before.”
But to Cleo, this isn’t new at all. The heart of this dispute, she feels, is a widening rift between renters and homeowners that predates this proposed development. Although not all homeowners and renters share these beliefs, it reflects the majority of interactions she has seen online.
“They said it a lot on the [NextDoor] thread: ‘Why should we subsidize people moving here? If you want to live here, you should pay to live here,’” she said. “It's like, buddy, people already do pay to live here [that are renting]… my perspective, having a middle schooler in this neighbourhood, is that most families are just getting by.
“The division was already there—I think a lot of it is generational, and maybe some of it’s class as well.”
Soon, the fate of 902 Foul Bay Road will lie in the hands of Victoria city council.
“I think it's important to think about what we want the city to look like in 10, 20, or 30 years,” Casey said. “If we keep pricing people out of the city, it's going to lose some culture.”
Corrections: This story has been updated to clarify that Aaron Hill was not among those advocating for leaving the lot empty. It has been further updated to specify the expected traffic volumes for different routes in the area, and the exact number of trips that are expected if the proposal goes ahead. Traffic in the neighbourhood is expected to increase during peak hours by 26 trips per day.